Why does the grass seem greener on the other side?

No matter where we turn in today’s world it seems personal satisfaction is absent.   Just as the famous Rolling Stones song goes, “…I can’t go no, satisfaction” we all try and try and yet we still seem to never find our satisfaction.  Why is this?  There are a few iterations of this proverb, why did the chicken cross the road, to get to the other side; why did the cow jump the fence to get into the neighbors field, because the grass was greener.  From celebrities melting down because they want to lead ‘normal’ lives to middle class people spending themselves into life long debt to chase a dream ideal which is unrealistic to governments trying to shape ‘perfect’ societies and even sports stars lack of satisfaction with their current state in their chosen profession and lives.  What is the driving force behind this desire to be someplace else, someone else, on the other side of the fence?  Is the grass really greener?  If it is why are so many people who get there constantly brought back by misery and humiliation?  Why can we not be satisfied by where and who we currently are? 


Growing up on a farm I was constantly dealing with animals getting on the other side of the fence.  Did they achieve the magical goal they were seeking, well for the mean time yes, but they are animals and the one thing most animals do not have is a sense of consequences for their actions, this requires arbitrary thought and a sense of self and others and the relationships between them all.  Of all the animals on this planet we humans have one distinct attribute, lack of instincts.  This has been a large debate for many generations.  I will not get into it too much here but I will state that instincts, or our lack of them, is what is leading us into this seemingly insane behavior of always trying to get to the other side of the fence.


I have discussed, in some length, in the past about human nature and our basic behaviors.  Humans have a total of 8 needs broken into 2 areas, physiological and psychological.  The famous humanist psychologists Abraham Maslow published the original list of 5 in the late 1940’s and in the 1960’s the addition of 2 more needs was included and Maslow himself acknowledged their existence and relevance in relation to the human experience.  In the 1990’s a new need was added which brings us to our current list.  We have to meet the primary needs in order to ascend to the next level, you can’t skip a level.  The 8 needs are, in order of importance, most to least; Physiological (air, food, shelter, sleep, etc), Safety (security, order, stability), Connection to Others (belonging, love, relationships), Esteem (self worth, status, achievement), Cognitive (knowledge, understanding, meaning), Aesthetic (beauty, balance, form), Self-Actualization (growth, self fulfillment), and finally Transcendence (helping others achieve Self-Actualization).  So what does this have to do with not being satisfied with where we are and jumping the fence for greener pastures?  Everything.


Our instincts are replaced by needs.  Animals have instincts that drive their behaviors, we have needs.  Often the behaviors I am describing are in the lower, or base, levels of needs.  The first is greed.  Greed is basically the selfish desire and pursuit of money, wealth, power, food, or other possessions, with the intent to deny the same goods to others.  The grass on the other side of the fence is greener because there are no other cows grazing there.  We, as humans, want more.  More equals security.  We have our basic need met so we move up to the next, safety.  Our motivation is to accumulate as many valuable resources as we can so we can feel safe and secure because we no longer have a need or want for anything.  Unfortunately we can see that there is never enough.  Billionaires are always trying to earn more money, despite the fact they have more then enough to last the rest of their life and provide their next 2 or 3 generations sloth like existence they still pursue more wealth.  True, they are seeking the final need, Transcendence, I would feel they are actually seeking some form of retribution or legal way to keep more then they are sharing the wealth.  If so they would move much more cash to charities and work to elevate people well above charity balls and dinners.  Build a factory, buy more medicine and doctors to distribute it, open an upscale restaurant that gives away free meals once a week to people in need.  Greed is a very powerful motivator, on of the most and this is why it is also included in the list of 7 deadly sins.  Money itself is not evil, like guns don’t kill people.  The pursuit of money is what is evil, the obsession with it and gaining more of it, just as loaded guns are only dangerous when people touch them, and the false sense of power they give those holding them.


Next up is esteem, defined as; the regard in which one is held, usually high, this need is the one we see celebrities and athletes destroy themselves over trying to gain.  We all desire to be special, to have that one thing that separates us form all others and makes people want to be us or like us.  We want to jump the fence because by being in the greener pasture we are unique, special, and with worthy of envy.  It is no coincidence this is close to the meaning of envy.  We desire to have others envy us, which it so happens is another of the 7 deadly sins.  The masses desire wealthy and celebrity, evident by our lifestyles and reactions to current affairs surrounding our society.  We all want to be millionaires, live posh and lavish lifestyles, and be admired by our peers.  Those who will not admit they would enjoy such a life are not being truly honest.  How many janitors do you know who dreamed of being a janitor as a child, how about garbage collectors, truck drivers, accountants, etc.  All modest careers very vital to society, but way out of the glamour lime light.  Those who try to jump the scale, drug dealers, scam-artists, identity thieves, celebrities etc, all sacrifice safety and security to gain this envy.  We all know what happens when the bill comes due to these individuals.  Their demise is always just around the corner.  Those who only dream of becoming famous will only achieve it by traveling down the very well worn and always fatefully wrong path. 


The first two reasons for jumping our fence to get to the greener grass have been the historical reasons, today is a new age, and this means we have new reasons.  The recent phenomenon of modern society something I call the shiny syndrome.  Crows and ravens as well as chimpanzees are susceptible to this more then we are.  If it is new, shiny, and improved, it has to be better then what we currently have and we just have to have it.  While this may seem similar to the last item of esteem/envy it is different enough it deserves its own category.  The modern person is only truly happy with new items.  This need is tapped into and exploited by marketers so successfully, while we are aware of it, we can not resist the lure of it.  New is better, from cell phones to cars to clothes and mixed drinks, we have all become slaves to fashion.  We look down on people using last years gear or fashion and we all want to be the first to have the next item.  Being different has become the latest phase of this craze.  Personalization is sheik and we have to have customized/personalized wines, tennis shoes, cell phones, car exteriors and interiors, etc.  We want to be the only cow in the pasture, and personalization is the false prophet who can get us there.  The last point in my shiny syndrome is the belief that the bleeding edge is the only place to be.  When I was growing up people expected the life cycle of items to last for at least a decade.  Today people replace cell phones annually, computers every 2 years, cars every 3 years, televisions every 4 years, and many more items with such frequency our society is discarding technology faster then it takes to migrate into developing countries.


Satisfaction with anything is all perception.  Does this new shiny thing make us happy and feel complete, well unfortunately yes but only for a short amount of time.  My favorite computer TV commercial is where a guy goes to the PC store, gets a new, top of the line PC from the display and while on the way home is deflated by the billboard showing the next model PC coming out next month making his new PC obsolete.  He was completely satisfied until he saw the add, and unfortunately we keep chasing the same ideal, unsuccessfully.  The cow jumping the fence believes the grass is sweater, more delicious, better then the grass they left, if only to justify their choice to take the action they did to get where they were.  There is always another fence.  As more cows become envious we are pushed to find new greener pastures we have to get to.  This vicious cycle is perpetuated by the lack of satisfaction we have in our self-esteem.  We are not secure enough in our environment to accept it as sufficient enough to sustain our current level of satisfaction.  Just as a dog chases its tail, we have not idea what we would do if we could capture this sense of peace and stillness from any material object.  This cycle is so intoxicating we fall to its seduction without realizing what has happened.  Our feelings are validated by our marketing and observations that others are doing the same, always seeking out the new, shiny, and most advanced whatever to make us feel complete, our ideals and material items now own us.


Next up for our discussion is the learning curve.  Gaining knowledge is one of our original 5 needs, the last of the original 5 to be more accurate.  We love to learn new things.  Remember our last point in the shiny syndrome, new is better, well part of the this is that we have to learn something new.  When we learn something new, a new skill for example, we feel great and we feel that we are ahead of the game now, we can do something others can’t.  We are stimulus junkies, not adrenaline but stimulus junkies.  New places, new things, new sights, sounds, smells, anything new has a learning curve, and when we master it we feel superior, until we get board.  Sound familiar, well it is very close to the last point on the shiny syndrome above, the intoxication of something new.  This is why we try new foods, restaurants, experiences.  We have a need to prove we are the masters of our domains and we have what it takes to excel and succeed.  Part of this is ego, the view of the self and how others view us, and part of this is self-validation.  We have to prove we are the self image we have in our heads, while we can fool our friends and family it is almost impossible to fool ourselves.  By learning something new we prove we still have what it takes.  Jumping the fence to the greener pasture proves to ourselves, and others, that we are capable and able to do what we want.


There are 4 primary motivators in our world; need, faith, and fear/pain.  While our cow is jumping fences because it is afraid of what will happen if it doesn’t, we as humans do.  We allow fear to rule so much of our lives it controls nearly all aspects of it.  If not fear of something happening the fear of something not happening is one of the main forces driving our modern world.  We work because we are afraid of what will happen if we can’t pay our bills or feed ourselves.  We have police because we fear ourselves, we have medicine because we fear death, and we have religion because we fear we are alone.  We seek greener pastures because we fear we will be left behind, we fear we will miss out, we fear others will reap the benefits and we will get nothing.  One of my most popular expressions is that the only constant in the universe is change.  We fear stagnation, sitting still and doing the same thing again and again.  Boredom is so bad we have adages suggesting we never get board, idle hands are the devils playpen.  Sometimes we are afraid of who we are and we want to change for the sake of changing.  I am not talking about people who lose half their body weight, that kind of change is very positive, I am talking about people shaving their heads, trying drugs, joining a gang because their current state of stagnation has scared them into doing something radically different.  Another fear is that of being left behind, as suggested at the beginning of this passage.  In high-school we hear our mothers ask ‘if everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?’ and surprisingly enough we do more often then heeding her wisdom.  I remember feeling I was the only person in high-school who was not drinking or smoking, so I was doing both by the time I was a junior.  This sort of fear we call peer pressure and it does not go away after graduation.  From the office to sibyl rivalry to the family across the street, we have to match or one up those around us because we are scared of being left behind.  This may stem from an old survival need but we are in modern times and we should outgrow these ancient patterns.


Now up to bat, my favorite reason for this cow jumping over the fence thing.  Actually this is closer to the chicken crossing the road analogy.  We are doing all this jumping because we can.  Old chickens know better then to cross the road, and old cows know the grass really isn’t any greener or sweeter on the other side of the fence.  This is due to maturity.  Maturity is the shedding of youthful abandon for wisdom, patience, and knowledge of how things are and work.  In American we have taken maturity and tossed it out on the side of the road on our golden paved road to ruin.  Don’t believe me, well ask the ancient Romans, they did the same thing and it caused the dark ages. 


Everywhere you look in American society we seen an emphasis on youth based culture.  I know everyone has seen the commercial where the old woman is cooking dinner, there is heavy metal music playing in the background, she taps on the ceiling with the broom, the music stops, and down walks her old husband wearing the clothes of a teenager, complete with piercing and hair style.  Its bad enough we have reality TV and people in their 50’s wearing teen fashions, now we have to tell our seniors that acting like teens is the only way to conform.  I know that is not the intent of the commercial however, there are worse signs that point to just this.  We see stereotypical behavior all around us.  From the immature escapades of a certain female singer imploding her life being front page news above world affairs to ad campaigns stating the only way to be happy is to be young and hip.  In most hunter-gather societies the elders are revered for their knowledge, wisdom, and advice.  Today we look to the younger and younger for inspiration and energy.  That Winehouse vs Moss feud is so yesterday, now it Hanna Montana having a body double and Jamie Lynn’s parenting plans.  While the world is falling into ideological hell and war we seem obsessed with these juveniles and their escapades.  


Hindsight is always 20/20.  Looking back at the wave of insanity known as political correctness it is clear to me that the legacy of such lunacy is the evaporation of responsibility for everyone’s lives.  From the woman, who sued McDonalds for serving their coffee too hot and not taking responsibility for drinking coffee while driving her car to hardened criminals getting reduced sentences and counseling instead of the hard time they deserve.  No one is responsible for their actions anymore and this is tragic because our judicial system is based on personal responsibility/culpability.  This youth-based obsession in our culture is wrought with pitfalls.  Don’t believe me?  32% of Americans are obese, medically beyond the weight to continue a healthy lifestyle indicative to a long life; that’s 2 out of 3 adults and 19% of children according to the US CDC in Atlanta.  Do we blame ourselves for eating too much?  No, we blame our genes, our ancestors for passing down bad genes to us, we blame food companies for making their foods too fat and delicious for us to resist, and we blame restaurants for serving us too much food.  It a social problem according to newly released research, diet books, and talking head sound bites on TV, yes its someone else’s fault and not our own.  How can we not be in control of our most fundamental and basic need, food?  If not us then who is playing Pavlov?


Our culture is eroding faster then northern California cliffs in this year’s rain storms.  If we don’t look out the cow jumping the fence will look down on us with pity.  We blame shift the responsibilities for our most basic needs right out into the rest of the world.  Food, it’s the people who make it and serve it, not us who pay for it and decide on eating a donut instead of an apple.  Safety, bah, it’s the militant cops causing fear by beating up all the kids, not the fault of the parents not committing to raising children and disciplining them and enforcing rules on every aspect of their lives.  Its our hectic hyper-speed lifestyle disconnecting us from society, not us relaying on text messaging, cell phones, blackberries, email, instead of going out to meet people the old fashioned way.  And all of this… well if you look at it is seems pretty childish and immature, right… r-i-g-h-t.  Our culture is obsessed with immateriality.  We all dress, talk, act, and respond to our environment like teenagers.  We have slowly replaced old age and wisdom with youthful exuberance as our ideal for perfection.  Plastic surgery, botox, ED pills, reality TV, i-Pods, anything new, shiny, cool, and so not old people.  Our values have been in the toilet for a long time now, and it seems we just threw in a cherry-bomb and flushed it all down.


What values are we to learn about the cow jumping the fence and the chicken crossing the road?  Remember stories like these are there to teach us a lesson, give us a small tid-bit of wisdom wrapped up in an easily understood story that small children can comprehend.  Leaving a place where you are safe, secure, and know how it works for something new is not just a risk, without sound reason or purpose its disastrous.  The cow is not able to analyze the grass on the other side, the chicken not able to realize the road is busy only at certain times of the day.  Only immature teens would jump the fence because their lack of responsibility fogs their immature judgment to take into consideration all the obvious risks involved.  What if the grass is painted green, was sprayed with pesticides or anti-fungals that are toxic to us, etc.  Of course we can’t prevent ourselves from taking risks based on what-ifs, but rational and logical people will make the move when most advantageous to their self interest.  Everywhere we look it seems people have lost their way.  We all know something is wrong, yet we seem like we are peering into the fog when it comes to finding solutions.


The reality of the situation is that over the past 20 years we, as a society, have sat back and done nothing to slow the tide of insanity in our culture.  No wonder the rest of the world mocks and is threatened by us.  Only the most notorious and sensationalized top 10% of our society get reported outside our borders.  People in other countries believe school shootings are a weekly occurrence and everyone in the US carries a gun, when in reality we have the least amount of gun owners in the US in our history (they just own more guns then before).  We have shifted from a rural society to an urban society in 2002, with more then 50% of the population living in towns, cities, municipalities, and metropolises.  Our old homespun country way of life values won’t cut it in an urban setting anymore.  Instead of being serious about shifting our values we have tossed them out with our farmer knowledge as being obsolete.  We have disconnected with our environment and bought into the lie that we can live without interaction with it, see global warming, whacked out environment, etc for more info.  


Now I would be a typical complainer unless I offered some kind of a resolution, either you are part of the solution or part of the problem.  The only way to get things done on a wide scale is to tell as many people as possible, inject passion and excitement so that others will engage, debate, discuss with their friends and family and hopefully begin to implement what makes sense to them.  One person can not change the world without having a way of getting their message out to the world.  I am not so arrogant to believe I am on such a mission, rather I am hoping I can reach the right person for this job.  This does not mean I do not have solutions of my own, and I will share these.  By telling you, I am hoping to inspire a positive reaction to begin sweeping the ocean off of our beach, with enough people helping we can regain some and hopefully a majority of the beach we lost along the way.


I believe that analogies are useful in almost every aspect of our daily lives, much like the cow over the fence.  So many things in life are equal to a journey, and a journey is easy to plan but harder to implement.  When planning a journey you must have 3 basic things.  A starting point, which we have.  A destination, which is where we ultimately as a society, where we want to be.  Finally we have to map a route between the two that offers the most advantageous route in minimal time, resources, and effort to make.  I have stated we have problems, and the place we are is wallowing in an immature cess pool of cultural atrophy beyond any past culture.


Our first step is to deal with the realities around us.  I applaud Bill Cosby for his high profile tours in discussing the issues or the African American community in the urban areas.  He is doing something about a plight he can no longer stand and is using his celebrity to spread his message.  The problems he is citing are not specific to this one community, but to all of us and the same lessons apply as well.  When you are in a situation it does not really matter how you got there, by then its too late, you have to accept what has happened, deal with the consequences, and go the next phase.  We are ultimately responsible for our own actions and the consequences for those actions, period, end of sentence.  Stop blaming your absent father on your problems with trust and commitment and move on, only people who are truly comfortable in a situation use this excuse.  Britney loves the place she is in, otherwise she would make serious changes, not shaving her head, getting drunk, and sleeping with paparazzi.  Suck it up, accept your situation, and face the music.


Next we have to try, try really hard not to fall back into our old patterns.  It takes a mighty effort to get a ship underway.  The engines have to provide so much force, transmitted via the ship’s screws, to overcome the friction and gravity that is holding the ship in its current position.  The issue is, when a ship is doing so it creates a churning pool of water behind it, this pool swirls so much it creates a vacuum that actually begins to suck the ship backwards requiring more effort from the engines to keep what little progress it has sustained.  The same lesson applies in our social lives as well.  We become planted into our current patterns and rituals it takes massive effort to uproot ourselves and make the changes necessary.  At the same time we have to keep vigilant to prevent the vacuum of our actions from sucking us back to where we started, the New Year resolution syndrome.  We have to take back control, don’t listen to slick merchandising ad campaigns, decide for yourself who you are and what you like and what will make you happy, not some slick 3 piece suit who is sending his kids to ivy league colleges off the campaign he sold to some conglomerate. 


Lastly we have to do the hardest part.  Grow the F up and act like adults.  In the 1950’s we had the best school system in the world.  We had prosperity, growth, respect, and achievements that the whole world looked up to.  In less then 20 years we lost all of that.  Why, well, it seems the whole hippie culture inspired the themselves and each new generation of kids who did what?  You guessed it, are in charge of the whole sha-bang today.  We had our problems in the 1950’s but our nuclear families were the foundation of our society then and what do we have today?  Families today have more steps then in front of Capital Hill.  I am not saying step parents and siblings are bad, but when approached in the wrong way it can lead to disaster.  The worst part is the message it leaves to our kids.  Now before I get rants on how divorce helped people, it does have its place and some situations are best served by permanent separation, but on a whole when we have a divorce rate over 52% and have since the 1980’s it is beyond a case-by-case basis but an epidemic.  We need to teach our children by our actions.  Show them commitment, sacrifice, selflessness, charity, integrity, honesty, and character.  If you are going to tell them, you have to show them, eat your own dog food.  Being an adult goes beyond your age and possessions.  Dress, act, speak, react, interact, and think like an adult.  Our largest problem is many of us never saw this in our youth and we don’t know how to do it.  Well, we have to improvise, adapt, and overcome this little snag.  It is great if we can be friends with our kids, when they are in their 20’s and 30’s.  Before this time we have to be their parents.  They have friends to play video games with them, spend time, hang out, etc.  Parents set rules, show examples, discipline, and teach the children, period, end of story.  With gangs (organized and unorganized) of kids running around there is no wonder places like Milwaukee are plagued with kids skipping school to beat, rape, murder, rob, and run amuck like the monkey in Jumengi.


In conclusion, our own worst enemy is ourselves.  We have posed the question, why are we not satisfied with our current lives and always trying to find another place that is more in-tune with our ideal of where we think we should be.  We have identified our 8 basic needs, according to Maslow, and seen how we have lost control of them by giving others control over all but the most basic of the basic.  We have seen how greed, and more accurately the pursuit of it, not just in the realm or money but material items as well have caused so many problems.  We have also looked at our shifting values from old to new and from wisdom of the elders to the reliving of the care-free youth lifestyle and the shirking of responsibilities from ourselves to those around us have lead to a society of immature teens running around acting the part to a T.  We have to learn how to master our impulses, shoulder the responsibilities of our actions and deeds and hold others accountable for theirs, and we have to regain our sense of family, commitment, and integrity.  If a person has operable cancer you do not give them pain killers and a band aid, you operate.  We need to swallow our shallow prides and become the living examples for our children.  We already have filled all the negative examples, well beyond their quote and unfortunately we seem to hold these up as the ideals and pinnacle of our society.  We need to cast them back into the negative light for which they belong and replace them with the seemingly boring and prudent model of old.  It will not be easy, for when we try to change the effort will be matched by the desire to remain the same, only through sheer will and determination can we change, and I know we can still achieve this goal.  We can’t continue to keep looking for inspiration, we have to become the inspiration and we all have the ability to do this.  We must show the young calves the error of the ways and consequence of jumping the fence to find greener grass.  We all can’t be mavericks or cool, but we all can happy if only we stop looking for happiness around us when it is only within us.

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One Response to Why does the grass seem greener on the other side?

  1. Bobbi says:

    Wow!  This blog is so right on.  And, you wonder about being a good father, you have the opportunity to show your daughter that Americans are not the monsters the world makes us out to be.  Wonderful blog.  Thanks

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